You may have seen Moscow, you may have seen St Petersburg – you might even have toured the Golden Ring cities outside of the Russian capital, but still, you have barely begun to scratch the surface of what this magnificent country has to offer.
So this week, Argophilia digs a little bit deeper and explores some of the more magical parts of unseen Russia…
Did you know that Russia has its very own version of the Dead Sea? That’s right, it does indeed. Welcome to Lake Baskunchak, a huge water-filled depression found on the top of a salt mountain just outside the city of Astrakhan in south European Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan.
The “Dogs Head”, as the lake is known in Russian, takes its name from an old legend that says a merchant caravan once stopped by in need of refreshment. Seeing the lake, one of the merchants dogs raced towards it, desperate to quench its thirst, only to die almost instantly due to the lake’s high salinity. The dog’s body slumped into the lake, slowly sinking below the surface until only its head remained poking out about the surface.
Lake Baskunchak has the largest deposits of salt in all of Russia – indeed, at 90% salinity, those reserves are expected to last forver, renewed as they are each day by multiple springs surrounding the lake.
Moving on, you might also be interssted to discover that Russia has its very own version of Stonehenge as well, right here in the middle of Siberia – Arkaim to be precise. Although, not much is known about the origins of The Ruins at Arkaim, with archaeologists still bickering about whether it was an ancient observatory, a religious shrine, or even part of an old town. One thing they do know however, is that this ancient relic is at least a millennia older than the legendary Turkish city of Troy.
Many legends have been told about the Ruins at Arkaim, including that the famous prophet Zoroaster met his fate here, and that Jesus Christ himself once paid a visit. Other rumors say that by washing oneself in the nearby Karaganka River, which runs through the ruins, its magical life-giving properties are able to restore your lost youth.
Nowadays, Arkaim has become something of a mecca for Russia’s hippie scene, who remain convinced that the town is rich in mystic powers.
Another equally mysterious collection of rocks and stones can be found near the shores of Lake Baikal – The Shamans, a 330-meter long wall-like structure decorated with odd-shaped pyramids and cones near Cape Rytny. Nobody knows who built them or why, all we know is that they are here, and most unusual.
If you want to visit the Shamans yourself, well… Good luck! They’re not all that easy to get to, as boat passengers are not allowed to disembark at the cape, due to local superstitions that visitors coming to see the Shamans will take away their spiritual powers.
Once place you are welcome to though is the Averkina Treasure Cave in Chelyabinsk – a place that’s sure to appeal to fans of Rober Louis Stevenson’s famous old novel. Legend has it (yep, more legends!) that the cave is the secret gold stash of the peasant rebellion leader Yemelyan Pugachev, who led a violent Cossack revolution back in the 18th century before being captured, drawn and quartered, then finally decapitated by the his Russian captors. Nobody has ever owned up to recovering Pugachev’s gold, yet his treasure was never found in the cave – instead all they made was a rather grisly discovery of human bones!